Trump has not limited himself to waging this war of exclusion on a merely rhetorical front. His Vice President is managing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a major initiative to root out the “voter fraud” that the president insists robbed him of a popular vote victory. “There are millions of [fraudulent] votes, in my opinion,” he proclaimed, and “of those votes cast, none of them come to me. None of them come to me.” Of course, they “came” out of “certain areas” in urban areas, such as in Pennsylvania and Michigan. This corruption of the political community was the one way—sometimes, he suggested, the only way—he could have lost, and he declared that if he did lose, we would “have a whole different country and it’s never going to come back.”
Now this Commission, headed by Pence, proposes to collect data on voters in all jurisdictions and store it on a White House server, scouring it for “fraud” in “certain areas” and striving to restructure, by narrowing along racial and ethnic lines, the eligible electorate. Ross Douthat has written that we cannot make too much of this anti-fraud program, with its central but not exclusive emphasis on onerous and arbitrary personal identification requirements. It is “more incremental than existential: Voter-ID laws are not Jim Crow,” he writes. He stumbles badly on this analogy. However far one might or might not take any comparison to Jim Crow, it remains the case that the ID laws and other franchise-restrictive measures of recent years have erected new discriminatory barriers to the right to vote. Trump is openly eager for more of the same and working to bring it about.
Trump’s defenders insist that any election reform must include reasonable protections against ineligible voting. Few will disagree. But this misses the point. Trump’s goal in setting up the Commission is far from anything recognizable as reform. He has broken with a string of bipartisan programs supported by election administration professionals and has substituted in their place a sham process with the different aim of restricting access to the polls of a targeted population of voters, primarily in minority communities. It is well known whom he has in mind and where he believes them to be located: he has confirmed his views at rallies and in tweets, and his audience understands him perfectly.